The Myth of the Virtuous Fat Person

scale photo via MorgueFile

scale photo via MorgueFile

After reading There’s No Morality in Exercise: I’m a Fat Person and I Made a Successful Fitness App by Naomi Alderman, creatress of Zombies,Run!, I started thinking about the myth of the virtuous fat person. By myth, I don’t mean “untrue thing” or “fairy tale story”. I’m referring to a story embedded in our culture that is meant to share some truth and meaning about some part of our lives.  The myth of the virtuous fat person goes like this:

The virtuous fat person is in great physical shape. She can run a pretty fast mile and exercises nearly every day. She only eats low-fat, non-gluten, carefully balanced meals. And yet, she is still overweight. We can forgive her for being overweight, because she is doing everything right. This fatness must be some trick of hormones or thyroid disorder or bad genes. It is not her fault. As long as she is healthy. . .

We can then pity her, and forgive her fatness, while secretly believing that she must eat chocolate mousse at midnight when no one is around. We can suggest to her that she eat more protein, or less. Or suggest the diet du jour, which had such good results when our cousin Sally tried it. We can critique her exercise regimen while acknowledging that she is doing the best that she can, maybe.

There is the corresponding myth of the virtuous thin person. The virtuous thin person is also in really great physical shape. She eats a balanced diet with a lot of calories. And yet, she is still too thin. It’s a trial for her, having such a “fast” metabolism. We can forgive her for being very slender, because she is doing everything right. Her bony slimness must be some trick of hormones or thyroid disorder or bad genes. It is not her fault. At least she is healthy. . .

We can then pity her, and forgive her thinness, while secretly believing that she must vomit most of those calories up in the toilet while no one is around. We can suggest to her that she eat more protein, or more fat, or less gluten. We can joke to her that she needs to “eat a sandwich!” We can critique her exercise program, for surely she is doing too much.

People like this do exist. They’re not mythical beasts, but neither are they a virtuous standard by which every other fat or thin person should be measured. They’re people like the rest of us, with their own unique challenges. And even as we assign them virtue for “doing everything right” and still not getting the desired results (the unobtainable, unreal, perfect body) we still criticize them with our dark thoughts about their supposed hidden sins. Because if they were truly virtuous, it would have paid off, right?

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One thought on “The Myth of the Virtuous Fat Person

  1. I’m a big old man, and I wear my sins on my chest like medals of honor. I covet a little, it’s the gluttony that marks me, and so be it! A mentor once said, “a life without ice cream is not a life worth living.” The only diets that ever succeed are when the dieters want it for themselves, not for perceptions or whatever societal bullscat is laying them low–the payoff has to be worth the deprivation. I’m not saying that it isn’t, just that it must be. It’s no different for the thin–the first step to a smile is a middle finger raised at the rest of the world, then a wink at the face in the mirror.

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